The Rise & Fall of Great Powers begins in a dusty bookshop. What follows is an abduction, heated political debate, glimpses into strangers’ homes, and travel around the globe. It’s a novel of curious personalities, mystery, and lots of books: volumes that the characters collect, covet, steal.
Tooly Zylberberg, owner of a bookshop in the Welsh countryside, spends most of her life reading. Yet there’s one tale that never made sense: her own life. In childhood, she was spirited away from home, then raised around Asia, Europe and the United States. But who were the people who brought her up? And what ever happened to them?
There was Humphrey, a curmudgeon from Russia; there was the charming but tempestuous Sarah, who hailed from Kenya; and there was Venn, the charismatic leader who transformed Tooly forever. Until, quite suddenly, he vanished.
Years later, she has lost hope of ever knowing what took place. Then, the old mysteries stir again, sending her — and the reader — on a hunt through place and time, from Wales to Bangkok to New York to Italy, from the 1980’s to the Year 2000 to the present, from the end of the Cold War, to the rise and wobbles of U.S. power, to the digital revolution of today.
Set against the gorgeous backdrop of Rome, Tom Rachman's wry, vibrant debut follows the topsy-turvy private lives of the reporters, editors, and executives of an international English language newspaper as they struggle to keep it – and themselves – afloat.
Fifty years and many changes have ensued since the paper was founded by an enigmatic millionaire, and now, amid the stained carpeting and dingy office furniture, the staff's personal dramas seem far more important than the daily headlines. Kathleen, the imperious editor in chief, is smarting from a betrayal in her open marriage; Arthur, the lazy obituary writer, is transformed by a personal tragedy; Abby, the embattled financial officer, discovers that her job cuts and her love life are intertwined in a most unexpected way. Out in the field, a veteran Paris freelancer goes to desperate lengths for his next byline, while the new Cairo stringer is mercilessly manipulated by an outrageous war correspondent with an outsize ego. And in the shadows is the isolated young publisher who pays more attention to his prized basset hound, Schopenhauer, than to the fate of his family's quirky newspaper.
As the era of print news gives way to the Internet age and this imperfect crew stumbles toward an uncertain future, the paper's rich history is revealed, including the surprising truth about its founder's intentions.
Spirited, moving, and highly original, The Imperfectionists will establish Tom Rachman as one of our most perceptive, assured literary talents.